The streak is broken, and I'm OK with it

I launched this newsletter almost a month ago, with the goal of publishing something every day (ok, technically, every weekday)

Well, yesterday was a weekday and I didn’t publish anything. I had something come up and I just wasn’t able to get it in.

That’s right, I’m only a few weeks into this experiment and I’ve already “failed”. But I’m not worried about it. In fact, I’m kind of glad.

When I’ve published daily in the past, one of the techniques that has allowed me to do so consistently is the concept of the “streak”. The goal is to build an unbroken chain of days that you’ve done your habit (publishing a post in this case) without fail. The longer the chain, the stronger the motivation to avoiding skipping and ruining your streak.

And it really works. Once I have a streak that is weeks or months long, it becomes an incredibly powerful motivator and I’ll do almost anything to avoid breaking the streak.

However, that same approach is also usually the cause of my downfall. On days when I want or need to take a break for some reason, there isn’t any slack in the system to allow that. So I push myself harder and harder to perform. Ultimately, it’s not sustainable and I always break the streak at some point.

What’s interesting to me is what happens next.

The logical thing would be to start a new streak the next day, right? But now I’m burned out, and the thing that was motivating me to continue most days is gone. If previously my streak was at 150 days, and I didn’t want to have to reset the clock, pushing myself to get something out today was worth it. But once I do reset the clock and start at 0, there’s no streak to keep me motivated. So I tend to have long gaps between streaks.

Honestly, I haven’t yet found a good way to combine the motivating and demotivating aspects of the streak. I suspect there’s a mental model shift in there somewhere. The problem with the streak is that it’s so black and white. Either you’ve kept it perfectly, or you’ve blown the streak and now you need to start at zero.

One approach might be to keep track of the number of perfect weeks. Almost like mini-streaks with limited duration. So for this newsletter, I’ve had three perfect weeks, but I missed yesterday, so this week won’t be perfect. But no worries, I can still have a perfect week next week (I’m taking Memorial Day off, btw).

Another approach would be to set a percentage-based goal that doesn’t require perfection. So rather than having a goal of publishing every day, your goal is to publish on 95% of days. Mentally, that works out to me as something like “Do it every day, but if you miss a day every month or so, it’s not the end of the world”.

If you’ve had any luck working with habit streaks over long periods of time without losing your mind, I’d love to hear from you!

Much love,
Ryan